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Anabolic Steroids: An Issue for Employers in Safety Sensitive Workplaces?

Some employers have expressed concerns recently about the potential use of anabolic steroids by workers in safety sensitive positions. Is it safe? Is it legal? Do they need a prescription? Can companies test for it? We address these questions in this post.

What are anabolic steroids and what are they used for?

Anabolic steroids naturally exist in the body, and can be prescribed for use in the treatment of certain specific medical conditions. Howevever, they can also be illicitly acquired, and misused and abused.  In such circumstances, anabolic steroids are typically used for muscle building and/or to enhance one’s performance or physical appearance.

Is the use of anabolic steroids without a prescription legal?

With the exception of various very low dose off-the-shelf/over-the-counter hydrocortisone-containing skin creams, all steroids must be prescribed in Canada.  Proof of prescription from the pharmacy or prescribing physician should be obtained in order to determine if steroid use is medically valid and authorized.

What are the potential effects of steroid misuse or abuse for safety sensitive workers?

With anabolic steroids, there is a risk of extreme mood swings and anger (“roid rage”) that may lead to violence. Researchers have also observed that users may suffer from delusions and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility. Individuals who abuse steroids can experience withdrawal symptoms – including fatigue and insomnia – when they stop taking them.  Testosterone supplements can also cause other health problems and could potentially contribute to the development of prostate cancer. It should also be noted that any time you blend steroids with other medications, the potential exists for a number of side effects to occur that could be detrimental to safety on the job.

Can laboratories in Canada test for steroids?

There are few highly qualified laboratories that we have come across in North America that test for anabolic steroids.  In Canada, the Olympic committee’s designated laboratory tests for these drugs at the highest level, and there are also laboratories in the U.S. that do such testing.  However, based upon our experience, access to the services offered by these laboratories can be somewhat difficult and testing is costly. The turnaround time is approximately 10 days, but will vary depending on the laboratory used for testing.

In addition to the difficulties of finding qualified anabolic steroid testing laboratories, the MRO reviewing of such test results is also complex, requiring a level of expertise beyond basic workplace drug testing programs.  As such, MRO services are often subcontracted to a small number of qualified physicians in either the United States or Canada who have experience working with steroid cases, and the costs involved can be significant.

Employers who would like to incorporate testing for steroids into their workplace policy can get in touch with us for more information on pricing.

Should employers be drug testing for steroids?

Before deciding to test for steroids, there are signs employers can look for that could indicate excessive steroid use. A personality change in the form of aggressiveness or inattentiveness, or if the individual seems to be out of sorts and growing in muscle bulk size, it could be that they are misusing or abusing steroids.

If you believe there is a steroid problem with an employee in your workplace, DriverCheck recommends starting with a medical exam and working with the individual’s personal physician to identify whether the employee is using medication that is not authorized.

As mentioned previously, drug testing for steroids is available, but this type of testing requires a level of expertise at both the laboratory and medical review officer levels that is rare. The laboratory must have the capability to provide an accurate analysis for the exact chemicals and it requires scientists and medical review officers with sophisticated expertise in those fields to be able to identify when someone is using an external source of steroid preparation as opposed to hormone mixtures that naturally occur within the body. The costs and turnaround time associated with this testing, as well as finding the proper expertise may be cost and time prohibitive for most employers. As such, DriverCheck only recommends drug testing for steroids if all other inquires or methods fail to identify a problem.

Was this post helpful? Let us know, by posting your comment. Or get in touch with us if you would like more information on anabolic steroids and the risks associated with the use of these drugs in your workplace.